Kenyans Say “We are #BetterThanThis,” Aiming to Support Women’s Participation in Elections
“Violence is an everyday reality for women running for office in Kenya – from physical and verbal abuse, public undressing and humiliation, to arson attacks. Women continue to bear the brunt of it all and this needs to change.”
While women in Kenya have reached leadership levels across multiple sectors of society, when it comes to political leadership, the country falls behind in female representation in comparison to other countries in the East Africa region. Barriers to women’s political participation range from cultural and religious beliefs to internal political party politics and access to financial resources. In Kenya, Violence Against Women in Elections (VAWIE) is a particularly significant barrier to women’s political participation.
The International Foundation for Electoral Systems’ (IFES) “Kenya Electoral Assistance Program” (KEAP) is committed to improving women’s political participation in the 2017 electoral process and beyond by making the narratives of women experiencing election violence in their homes, political arenas, and public spaces more visible. IFES recognizes that VAWIE is a threat to the integrity of the electoral process; it affects women’s participation as voters, candidates, election officials, activists, and political party leaders and it undermines free, fair, and inclusive democratic processes.
On July 5, 2017, IFES’ KEAP officially launched the #BetterThanThis campaign with a reception at Aga Khan University. The name of the campaign comes from the insistence that Kenya can do better than the current state of violence against women in Kenya’s electoral process and challenges Kenyans to “do better” in the fight against VAWIE. Preliminary data collected during the primaries in Kenya showed that instances of violence disproportionately affected women, and in many instances, women were targeted simply because they were women. The campaign launch event fostered discussion on avenues toward greater female political participation during the 2017 elections among influencers. Over 60 guests were in attendance including prominent bloggers and social media influencers, activists, media professionals, candidates, donors, and guest speakers from the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission. During the event, the #BetterThanThis hashtag went live and trended at the number two spot in all of Kenya. Leading up to the August 8 elections, the campaign continued to release videos, inspirational images, and posters to encourage women’s participation in the electoral process.
“We developed a two-pronged advocacy approach to achieve long-term institutional and policy reforms for substantive inclusion of women in political spaces, and to create a critical mass of women at the grassroots level that will form a demand structure that challenges the sub-par women’s political leadership in Kenya.” – IFES KEAP Chief of Party Kristina Wilfore
To ensure that survivors of violence can access critical services after experiencing violence, IFES has partnered with Healthcare Assistance Kenya (HAK), which runs the country’s first-ever nationwide 24-hour gender-based violence (GBV) helpline, to publicize the service through the #BetterThanThis campaign. Fanis Lisiagali, executive director of HAK, reminds the public that “by dialing 1195, Kenyans can receive emergency tele-counseling services and will be directed to services they need, including healthcare services, police and security services, and legal services.” Through this partnership, IFES is working to make sure that survivors and witnesses of VAWIE know they can both report instances of violence as well as receive any services they may need. In the long-term, IFES will use VAWIE related data collected from this effort to inform electoral, security, and GBV stakeholders to better respond to this issue together.
From the launch of the digital media campaign on July 5 and through the electoral period, IFES sought to create awareness about the social and political cost of VAWIE in Kenya and the exclusion of women in political leadership ahead of the August 8 elections. The campaign included nuanced messaging disseminated to target audiences through social media, such as Instagram, YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter. IFES also developed a #BetterThanThis website, which includes information about women’s political representation, barriers to women’s political participation, VAWIE in Kenya as well as efforts that Kenyan organizations are making to address the issue, and opportunities to be #BetterThanThis.
“We have purposefully used a strategic communications approach to harness innovative spaces and create behavior change through our digital advocacy campaign. As a best practice, we need to marry policy and institutional reforms with strategic communications, something often ignored in the development space. By using this approach, we surpassed our digital targets. Most people who saw the digital ads were between 25-34 with the 18-24-year-old group following closely behind. Most of the people who saw the content were males at 56 percent. What was more interesting, was that most engagement with the content came from males at 61 percent,” explained IFES KEAP Strategic Communications Specialist Carla Chianese.
Following the annulment of the August 8 presidential election results by the Supreme Court of Kenya and the subsequent re-run election on October 26, promoting peaceful, non-violent messaging was critical for ensuring full and equal participation by women in the electoral process. Through this turbulent electoral period, IFES continued to consistently promote access to useful resource information (i.e., access to tele-counseling, emergency services, reporting mechanisms, etc.) through enhancing public awareness of the HAK and other electoral violence toll-free helplines. One example of this outreach was through robust distribution of branded shopping bags in conflict affected informal settlements in Nairobi so that relevant messaging was disseminated in physical space, not just through digital messaging, allowing the reach of the campaign to extend to those without access to social media platforms.
Throughout the electoral period, IFES directly engaged Kenyans on VAWIE through the #BetterThanThis campaign while simultaneously publicizing the HAK 1195 hotline service to raise awareness about this critical issue and provide lifesaving access to services for affected persons. While VAWIE was still reported during this electoral cycle, through this campaign, IFES and its local partner HAK better informed women and men about the negative impact of VAWIE and have raised the conversation to the next level. Through rigorous social listening as part of the digital campaign, we are able to provide innovative spaces for advocacy and a platform to create significant change in the lead up to 2022.
“Overall, the campaign exceeded our expectations. It reached over 16 million Kenyans over the last few months. We have seen a high level of engagement with our content, particularly from males, which indicates that Kenyans are ready to have conversations about VAWIE,” said Wilfore.
Kenyans attend the launch event of the #BetterThanThis campaign.
To learn more about VAWIE, please see IFES’ VAWIE Toolkit.